My notable person for this week is Skoto Aghahowa, owner/operator (with Alix du Serech, his wife) of Skoto Gallery, one of the earliest New York galleries devoted to works by contemporary African artists. As the gallery’s website states, Skoto Gallery was established in 1992 as a space where some of the best works by African artists can be exhibited within the context of a diverse and international audience. As one of the first galleries specializing in contemporary African Art in New York City, it has been instrumental in the progression of this rapidly growing field. I can personally attest to its importance, having helped curate in 1995 (along with Skoto and Barthosa Nkurumeh) the first group exhibition in the USA to focus on Nsukka Uli artists (Uli Art: Master Works, Recent Works. New York: Skoto Gallery, April 1995). Skoto also assisted prominent African artists like El Anatsui into the mainstream of art discourse, having organized a very successful exhibition for the artist at Skoto Gallery in 2006. The incendiary Anatsui was promptly poached from Skoto Gallery by another New York gallery, which perfectly illustrates the predatory capitalism of Western interests that Nigerians characterize as “monkey dey work, baboon dey chop”, what a character in the film “Blood Diamond” defined thus: every time Africans discover something of value, sooner or later Western interests arrive to deprive them of it”. Nevertheless Skoto abides and has exhibited important contemporary African artists like Aime Mpane, Osi Audu, Wosene Kosrof, Obiora Udechukwu, Owusu-Ankoma, Olu Amoda, Afi Nayo, Etiye Dima Poulsen, Mohammed Omar Khali, and Tayo Adenaike, to name a few. In addition to its major commitment to contemporary African Art, his gallery has also managed to expand and diversify its involvement with contemporary issues by engaging a wide range of art and artists in its programming. Towards this end, the gallery has increasingly become a nexus of possibilities not only for contemporary African art but for mainstream artists of any ethnic or cultural persuasion. It has become a site where the adventurous viewer and collector can be involved in an ongoing cultural dialogue. African-American jazz luminary Ornette Coleman curated its inaugural exhibition. Some of its later exhibitions have included works by American and international artists such as Tom Otterness, Al Loving, Samia Halaby, Sol LeWitt, Emilio Cruz, Helen Ramsaran, SoHyun Bae, Richard Hunt, Frank Bowling, Carol Kreeger Davidson, Bob Thompson, Paul Gardere and Freddy Rodriguez. Skoto Gallery has been largely ignored in the discourse of contemporary African art despite its immense contributions towards promoting contemporary African artists in New York. In this regard, Skoto Aghahowa and Alix Du Serech both deserve respect and commendation, for remaining steadfast in the difficult terrain of gallery management in the global context.
(Reference: certain parts of this write-up is taken from Skoto Gallery’s “About us” section).